Red Fox Farm – A Local Perspective

Honey bees pollinate almost half of all fruit, nut and vegetable crops in the United States, with an estimated value of $15 billion. In Utah, “the Beehive State,” honey bees (Apis mellifera) pollinate dozens of agricultural crops, including fruit trees, alfalfa, raspberries, melons, squash and cucumbers.

When a mysterious phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) began devastating the country’s honey bees in 2006, beekeepers and biologists alike scrambled for answers. Insecticides called neonictinoids have been linked to the decline. While CCD remains a serious issue worldwide, there is hope for these iconic insects of industry. In fact, the number of honey bee colonies in Utah has actually been increasing in recent years. The recovery, though modest, has been attributed almost entirely to “backyard” beekeepers, whose numbers have been steadily increasing.

Britte Kirsch and Stewart Willason joined the ranks of Park City area beekeepers six years ago. They own and operate Red Fox Farm, a 4.5 acre spread in Snyderville Basin.
“I always wanted bees. My brother kept bees back in Maine and I thought it would be fun to do in Park City,” says Kirsch. She took a beekeeping class through the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program to learn the “basics”.

In spring 2011, she and Willason bought a package of bees and released them into a hive in front of their house. Th e package weighed about three pounds and included full-grown workers and a queen. Their endeavor grew quickly. “We started buying more bees and catching swarms and now they’re doing really well in our local environment,” says Willason.

“The biggest challenge is keeping the hives warm enough in the winter. Britte is the worker bee of the family. She harvests the honey and processes it naturally. I call her the bee whisperer.”
“We’re in it for the bees, not the honey. I just want them to be bees, to pollinate and be happy,” Kirsch adds. Though they sell about 50 pounds a year of their honey at the Park City Farmer’s Market, they insist they’re not really a commercial operation, “In fact, we’re just the opposite,” says Willason. “We sell some of the honey, but we leave most of it for the bees.”
Willason suspects a trend in the Park City area. “A lot of people are getting interested in honey bees and want to see them out pollinating. Th ey want bees in their gardens or fields, but don’t necessarily want to harvest the honey. They just want to see a whole, healthy ecosystem. People here are very conscientious and don’t use a lot of pesticides. We’re very lucky that way.”

To learn more about Red Fox Farm, email: redfoxfarmutah@gmail.com

[box title=””]Stewart Willason studies honey bees and knows what they like in a hive. In his free time he builds and sells custom beehives, beautiful wood works combining both aesthetics and utility. “I use a high quality stock of western Red Cedar and take a lot of time building them,” he says. “My hives are modeled aft er ‘the People’s Hive’, a simple and effi cient design created in France in the early 1920s. It’s a good hive, very easy to access, and you can get a reasonable amount of honey from it. I also make a larger, very sturdy hive that can be easily insulated to help the bees over winter.” Willason sells the People’s Hives for about $300. “I love working in my wood shop,” he says, adding, “It’s not about the money. If I was paid by the hour for these it would probably be well below minimum wage,” he laughs.[/box]